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Friday, July 28, 2006

Analysis: U.S. military in supply swamp

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The U.S. military`s supply system has been broken for a decade and a half, and experts warn it may stay that way for years to come.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has labelled the Department of Defense`s supply management as a high risk area for 16 years. But although everyone agrees it needs urgent reform there is no real sign of that happening yet.

'The current system impedes the department`s ability to deliver the right items, at the right time, to the right place for the warfighter,' Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, said Tuesday at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.
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Voinovich, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said a GAO study had found inadequate logistics support that led to supply shortages during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The GAO report was titled 'High-Level Commitment and Oversight Needed for DOD Supply Chain Plan to Succeed.'

'As a result, the war reserves did not have enough vehicle generators, tracks for tanks, body armor, lithium batteries, ready-to-eat meals, tires and up-armored high-mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles and kits to meet the demands of the field,' he said.

The limited amount of protective gear had earlier received major criticism within the United States. The Washington Post on Jan. 12 cited forensic studies suggesting that many American soldier`s lives could have been saved in Iraq if they were properly armored. Now the Department of Defense is at last supplying troops with the required amount of armor.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, told the hearing that the Department of Defense`s supply management inefficiencies had significantly impacted upon the U.S. military`s overseas operations and placed American troops at risk on the battlefield. 'Security chain management isn`t a regional issue,' he said.

The DOD implemented a supply chain improvement plan in 2005. Alan F. Estevez, head of the Pentagon`s supply chain integration, told the hearing that the Pentagon was making improvements to the military`s chain system management. He said the department saw a 33 percent decrease in customer wait time, or how long products take to reach the client, from 24 days in fiscal year 2004 to 16 days by April 2005.

The Pentagon`s use of Radio Frequency Identification made the processing of materials more efficient. The DOD supply chain integration program is also implementing a plan to continually evaluate and examine their progress, called the continuous process improvement.

'We`re showing measurable improvement now,' Estevez said. He discussed DOD collaboration with the private sector to learn from companies` supply management techniques and create benchmarks for the department.

'In benchmarking, what you want to do is you want to learn what they`ve done and figure out how to apply it,' Estevez said. 'But we`ll probably never have the kinds of inventory turns that a Wal-Mart or a Dell or some of the other companies have.'

However, Estevez noted, the DOD and private sector were not wholly comparable because of the vital nature of DOD shipments and the fact that the department transports materiel to remote regions private businesses would not operate in.

William S. Solis, the Government Accountability Office`s director of defense capabilities management, said the DOD had made progress in supply chain improvement, though more needs to be done.

'In their effort to develop performance measures for use across the department, DOD officials have encountered challenges such as a lack of standardized reliable data,' Solis said. 'Nevertheless, DOD could show near-term progress by adding what they call intermediate measures. These measures could include outcome-focused measures for each of the initiatives or for the three focus areas.'

The focus areas involve inventory management, the tracking of shipment location and condition and the delivery system.

Solis also said it is still uncertain how the Department of Defense`s plans to improve logistics and the supply chain are aligned with each other.

'The plans were developed at different points of time, for different purposes and in different formats,' Solis said. 'So it is difficult to determine how all these ongoing efforts link together ... and whether they will result in significant progress toward resolving this high-risk area.'

Yet officials said that they expect further progress with the DOD supply management programs.

'We`re still implementing, we`re just starting to implement,' said Kathy Smith, special assistant in the DOD`s office of supply chain management.

Voinovich was more concerned over sustaining progress from the supply management improvement programs after the current presidential term ends. 'I know transformational change cannot happen in two years,' he said.

Estevez said the Department of Defense planned to keep the GAO, Office of Management and Budget and Congress updated with monthly briefings, summary reports updated monthly, and quarterly meetings if necessary.

However, the serious structural problems that Voinovich and other critics have identified, and the continuing failure of the Pentagon to come up with detailed plans to resolve them, mean the waste and logistical headaches may continue on a comparable scale for years to come.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International
SOURCE:
Analysis: U.S. military in supply swamp

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